Petar, Renata and friends at Villa Dihovo
Ask Petar Cvetkovska any question, and chances are his reply will be "You decide." That includes how much to pay for an overnight stay, meals included, at Villa Dihovo an 88-year-old stone house in the village of Dihovo near Macdonia's Pelister National Park.
Petar, a former professional soccer player, and his wife, Renata, a pharmacist, leave it up to guests to decide how satisfied they are and what they want to pay. This sounds like a risky idea, but my guess is that it encourages most people to pay more rather than less.
"I'm still waiting for the person who pays nothing," Petar laughed when I asked him about this. After a dinner of grilled fish, sausages, stuffed peppers, salad from the garden, baklava and Petar's homemade beer and wine, I knew we would not be the first.
Petar's parents live next door in a new house next to the original family home, now a guesthouse with three bedrooms decorated with rustic handmade beds and furniture, mostly made by Petar. We were lucky to score the best room, the only one of the three with a shower and toilet en-suite. Plumbing the old house must have been a challenge. The shower was literally a few inches away from the bed.
Bedroom with shower
Petar teaches physical education at the local middle school, and lives with his wife and two daughters in an apartment a few miles away in Bitola, but spends much of his time here at the house, serving the food cooked by Renata and his mother, and entertaining guests with entertaining bits of philosophical musings.
"Women,'' he says, "are like Google. They know everything.'' Hard to argue with that!
Tom relaxing in the living room at Villa Dehovo
From Bitola, a mountain town in Central Macedonia where we arrived by bus from Lake Ohrid, it was a 10-minute taxi ride to Dihovo, a village of about 200, with a church, a swimming pool, one restaurant and not much else but rivers and wilderness hiking trails and ski runs.
It was "village day'' in Dehovo, Petar explained when we arrived. His outdoor table was filled with guests, and he invited us to join in for a drink. A televison crew would be arriving the next morning to film a segment on the national park, followed by some filming at Villa Dehovo. Apparently, his rustic digs and pay-what-you want policy are attracting some national attention.
Breakfast with mountain tea
Steve and our salad
Breakfast was herb tea "from the mountains," which Tom thought tasted like oregono; tomatoes, cheese, cucumbers, eggs, and one morning, a green tomato and fig jam for the toast. Dinner our second night, shared with Steve, a bike tour leader from Vermont, and a Macedonian couple on holiday, started with a huge salad, followed with cabbage rolls, beef baked with mushrooms, white beans, marinated peppers and a couple of homemade desserts.
Petar's official policy is to ask guests to pay only a set price for beer and wine. We could understand why after watching the Macedonian couple down one full bottle of his 40-proof homemade rakija, then uncork another before they finished their salad.
So, you're probably wondering, how to put a price on this experience? We compared notes with Steve, and asked the Macedonian couple for their advice. Then, taking into account a price of $50 for two, including breakfast, I saw posted on an Internet booking site; how much we paid for our lakeview room in Ohrid and Petar and Renata's fantastic meals (We're moderate drinkers so they threw in the beer and wine); and the overall good feeling of rounding out our trip by spending time with a local family, we handed Petar the equivalent of $130 for two nights.
He smiled and seemed pleased. It was less than the most anyone has ever paid. That was 100 euros ($130) for one night paid by a man from Latvia who arrived on a motorcycle. It was perhaps a little more than some others thought was right.
What do you think? Too much or too little? As Petar would say, "You decide.''
Next: Crossing the border into Greece, and meeting our Coachsurfing hosts in Thessaloniki.